The Announcement

As we approach Christmas, I thought you might be interested in a repeat of a post I did a few years back after finishing a season doing the Holy Land & Egypt cruise.  Both the Holy Land & Egypt are off cruise itineraries right now which sometimes happens as world events unfold.  They were off before, then when I did several months of the Holy Land & Egypt right after the Egyptian Revolution, they were back on the schedule.  Both the Holy Land & Egypt have been around for a long time and lived through a whole lot of turmoil, and survived, so they’ll be back.  Anyway … The Announcement!

There are a lot of things we don’t know.

How exactly does a Virgin Birth work?

Why does Mary get all the credit in this story, when Joseph certainly deserves the “Boyfriend of The Year” award for accepting and going along . . . and following God.

How old was Mary? Through the years a Cult of Mary has developed and thrived. Half of the Roman Catholic churches you go into you would swear the religion was all about Mary, and not about Christ. In a lot of traditional religious paintings Mary is portrayed as a mature woman, when the reality was that she was a scared Jewish teenager.

Where did Mary live? Depending on the age of the painting she may have lived in a castle, or a Dutch canal house, a Moorish castle, a Roman villa, or a Chinese pagoda . . . all of which is OK, but . . . according the final authority, the Israeli tourist board, there are two places. Two? Right, both the Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox, by the way neither of whom were present at the “Event”, are certain they and they alone have the right spot where the Annunciation took place, and both have erected churches on the site. The tours tend to go to the most “tourist friendly” site and often the grandest, and so in this case the tours visit the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

The current church is a two-story building constructed in 1969 over the site of an earlier Byzantine-era and then Crusader-era church.  A larger structure was commissioned by Emperor Constantine I, who had directed his mother, Saint Helena – I mean she became Saint Helena much later and I’m sure that’s not always the way good old Constantine felt about Mom.  But Helena was commission by her son, the Emperor, to found churches commemorating important events in Jesus Christ’s life and she did. And it was probably a much better idea than having Mom erect monuments to “my son, the Emperor.” There have been several church buildings on this site, the present basilica was completed in 1969 and dedicated by Pope Paul VI and is under control of the Franciscans and is the largest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East.
Inside, the lower level contains the Grotto of the Annunciation, believed by many Christians to be the remains of the original childhood home of Mary. The first shrine was probably built sometime in the middle of the 4th century, comprising an altar in the cave in which Mary had lived.
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.’  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’

‘How can this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’

The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God’

‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered.  ‘May it be to me as you have said.’  Then the angel left her.”  [Luke 1:26-39]

Just outside the Church of the Annunciation is a little mosque that choose to put up a billboard quoting the Koran reading, “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.”

By a few cruises later someone had gotten to the sign and spray painted out the words “be accepted”, “losers” and “Koran”.

Now I know that a lot of the tourists on our tours were offended by the mosque sign.  However, I had to remind them that exclusivity is nothing new in religion.  After all, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.”